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Should We Support “Ban the Box” Laws?

Posted by on Mar 13, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 2 comments

 

 

Question #1:  Should ex-convicts be forced to answer questions about their criminal backgrounds when seeking employment?

Question #2:  Do prospective employers have a right to know about the criminal history of applicants?

 

These two questions present an obvious contradiction.  You either support an applicant’s right to privacy.  Or, you support the employer’s right to know who they’re hiring.  You can’t be in favor of both.

Legislation which would prohibit asking questions about criminal histories has been proposed in several states, including here in Nevada.  What’s known as the “Ban the Box” law means making it illegal to ask questions about criminal history on employment applications.  Some of these proposed bans apply only to government-related employment, including states and localities.  Other bans are far more comprehensive and would impact employers hiring workers in both the public and private sectors.

Compelling arguments can be made on both sides of this debate.  That’s what makes this controversial issue so problematic.  There are no easy answers.

See if you agree:

 

THE CASE FOR “BAN THE BOX”

“Ban the Box” supporters point out that ex-convicts have paid their debts to society.  They shouldn’t be stigmatized by prior criminal history, which (when disclosed) makes it far more difficult for them to re-enter society as working citizens.

Fact is, ex-convicts face paralyzing levels of discrimination in virtually all areas of daily life — including housing, finance, child custody, and even in developing personal relationships.  This is especially true for employment, as well, which is often the most important single factor in determining what happens to ex-convicts after they’re released.

Consider the following:  When two applicants are up for the same job, and one is an ex-convict, the applicant with the clean criminal record is almost certain to get selected.  Repeated failure and disappointment at securing steady work means ex-convicts have far fewer options to make a decent living.  Hence, some of them return to their old ways and go back to a life of crime.  That’s not good for them.  It’s also not good for society.

We should all try to empathize with ex-convicts who honestly want to turn their lives around.  I think they deserve our support.  They face enough obstacles already during various stages of rehabilitation without the added hardship of not being able to get a good job.

The consequences of discrimination against ex-convicts isn’t just personal.  Society, at large, is also adversely effected.  If employers screen out ex-convicts based on their pasts, this creates a large group of both unemployed and under-employed, especially among younger men.  Since the United States imprisons far more of its citizens than any nation in the world (many for abstruse drug offenses), the numbers here are quite significant, even reaching into the millions.  It’s also one of many contributing factors towards inner-city squalor and decay, with a devastating impact on minority communities which already suffer disproportional levels of discrimination.

Of course, “Ban the Box” laws will not solve all the problems that ex-convicts face, nor magically the lift the poorest communities out of poverty.  However, this law would help quite a large number of people, many with good intentions who desperately want to turn their lives around and become a productive part of society.

Everyone who applies for a job deserves a fair chance.

 

THE CASE AGAINST “BAN THE BOX”

Employers have rights, too.  Employers are entitled to know exactly who they’re hiring, especially for jobs involving trust and public safety.  Ex-convicts have already demonstrated some degree of personal failure when it comes to issues of trust and public safety.  Prospective employers are entitled to know about those deficiencies.

Opponents of “Ban the Box” laws point out that workplaces are not cross-cultural laboratories for social experimentation.  Employers shouldn’t be forced to take all the risks, nor bear the occasional burden of an ex-criminal who continues committing illegal acts after serving time and being released back into society.

Indeed, if the actions of an ex-convict who committed a terrible crime in the past aren’t known to the employer in advance, there’s a chance that person might do bad things that will harm the company and endanger other employees.

“Ban the Box” laws don’t necessarily restrict hiring practices.  Some ex-convicts who apply for jobs might make such a positive impression that they get hired anyway, and eventually become outstanding employees and good citizens.  However, employers should be able ask questions related to criminal records in advance and conduct background checks to find out this information.

There are already plenty of laws on the books which prohibit many types of discrimination in employment based on age, race, and gender.  Most agree that those are rights which should be protected.  Government has an obligation to make ensure to the best of its ability that all citizens receive fair employment opportunities.

However, once someone commits a crime and gets convicted in a court of law, the same rights to privacy should not apply equally to everyone.  Citizens with clean criminal records are entitled to the presumed advantages of good behavior in future employment over ex-convicts who have made bad decisions in the past.

Employers have a right to know who they may be hiring.

 

So, what’s your opinion?  Should we support “Ban the Box” laws which make it easier for ex-cons to fit back into society?  Or, should employers be allowed to ask questions about the past criminal convictions of applicants?

If you were a state legislator, how would you vote?

 

MY THOUGHTS:

Permit me to offer the following opinions:

(1)  The notion of restricting access to information is very troublesome.  Prohibiting what seems to be perfectly normal questions about an applicant’s background contradicts the fundamentals of honesty and transparency.  However….

(2)  Society would be much better off with “Ban the Box” laws.  Many ex-convicts who otherwise would be summarily rejected for employment would enjoy far greater opportunities.  Accordingly we would all benefit from ex-convicts returning productively to the workforce, since there’s less a chance for recidivism.  That means less crime, less strain on the overworked judicial system, less prisons, and better workers.  It also means more opportunities for ex-convicts living in inner cities, resulting in some measure of economic growth and greater family cohesion.

(3)  The chances of “Ban the Box” legislation passing in many states is slim to none.  Elected officials don’t want look “soft on crime.”  Hence, such laws present a political conundrum.  Many elected officials who oppose government intrusion on business and who also fear repercussions at the ballot box, might agree in private that the positives of “Ban the Box” laws outweigh the bad.  However nowadays, political courage is exceedingly rare.

 

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Friendship is Non-Partisan

Posted by on Mar 12, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Personal, Politics | 1 comment

 

 

A close friend of mine was recently offered a political appointment in the Trump Administration.

This might be difficult to believe, but I do have many Republican friends.

I won’t identify him by name.  He can come forward and identify himself, if he wants to.

I heard this story firsthand from my friend a few weeks ago.  He even told me quite an amzing story of speaking personally with the President a few times — once during an informal interview, and second, a short follow-up telephone call at which time he was offered the job.

From the way things happened, I expect that he’ll take the job, if he hasn’t already done so.  No doubt, he’ll be very good in that position.  This person is a hard-working.  He’s highly experienced.  He’s someone that can be trusted at all times to do the right thing.  Our country needs that right now.  We will be lucky to have him involved in our government.

However, just before he shared this information with me, he prefaced our conversation by acknowledging my unabashed disgust with President Trump.  “I know you can’t stand Trump, but I have to share something with you….” he said.  That was the way our conversation started.

Actually, my personal opinions on political issues are totally irrelevant here.  We all want our friends to succeed.  We all want those closest to us to do well in life, and advance in their careers.  We all want key positions in our government to be staffed with qualified people.  That’s a non-partisan viewpoint most of us probably share.

After hearing about the details of his political appointment, presumably now pending, I was absolutely thrilled for my friend.  What amazing news.  How could I not be thrilled?  After all, the prestige of being personally picked for such a high position in the federal government by the leader of the executive branch really has no comparison.  It doesn’t matter what someone thinks about President Trump or President Obama before that, and so forth and so on — that’s one of the highest honors in public service, to be chosen from millions of people and then personally asked by the President to take a job in a new administration.

Indeed, my reaction would be the same for anyone who’s asked to serve — be it for a position in a Donald Trump Administration or a Bernie Sanders Administration.  Success is success.  Friendship is friendship.

This is something we should all pause and remember, moving on in the weeks and months ahead.  While I shall continue to do everything within my power to stop the Trump Administration from imposing what I consider to be a dangerous and destructive agenda for America, I shall also applaud those I know who are good people for now getting to experience one of the rarest of opportunities in anyone’s professional life — which is to work for the White House.

Before writing this, I’d never thought much about this before, and I certainly don’t have any poll data to back up the following claim.  However, my best guess is that I have roughly an equal number of friends and family members who are either liberal or conservative, or somewhere in the middle.  The people I run around with are all over the map, politically speaking.

If I’ve lost any friends from expressing my political views, or engaging in discussions that might have turned into arguments, then I’m not aware of it.  Perhaps some people who I mistakenly thought were friends no longer reach out anymore, or like to hang around.  But I can’t name a single person who was banished from my inner circle of trusted friends based on their political viewpoints.  To the contrary, I hope the best for all of them.

Hence, when one of those friends told me that he be might be working for President Trump, I write now what I said to him then:  Congratulations.  I believe the President made an excellent choice.

Go for it.  Do your best.  Make a difference.

 

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Chit Chat with Donald Trump, Poker with Shaq O’Neal, and Breakfast with Katt Williams

Posted by on Mar 10, 2017 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, Personal | 2 comments

 

 

Note:  This is the second part of the story, “The Night I Met Donald Trump at Shaq O’Neal’s 33rd Birthday Party.”  PART 1 can be read here.

 

After zonked-out Tara Reid had to nearly be carried across the red carpet in front of the step-and-repeat banner, the parade of A- to D-list celebrities swarmed the media trough and boarded the “look at me” train.

Vivica A. Fox; “The View” co-hosts Star Jones and Al Reynolds; Miami Heat owner Micky Arison and President Pat Riley; Rapper Timbaland; Miami Heat teammates-Eddie Jones, Alonzo Mourning, and Dwayne Wade; Houston Rocket-Tracy McGrady; Chicago Cub-Sammy Sosa; Chicago Bear-Brian Uhrlacher, Oakland Raider-Ray Crockett, New York Met-Mike Piazza — the guest list went on and on.  That’s who I remember seeing.

No surprise — Shaq won top prize for the “wow factor.”  The guest of honor arrived at his party decked out in regal splendor, chauffeured in some futuristic-looking car so exotic it didn’t even have a brand name.  Accompanied by his wife who was shorter than her husband by at least two feet, Shaq waltzed down the red carpet decked out in a bright-as-Tide white Zoot suit, his giant basketball-sized head topped off with a Panamanian-style fedora.

Celebrity events can be wildly unpredictable.  You never know for sure who might show up, and perhaps more important, who will not show, despite accepting the earlier invite.  That’s the danger of coaxing lots of media to attend and throwing a high -profile bash.  If all the cameras and reporters show up, then it becomes essential to deliver on the goods.  That means plenty of A-list celebrities.

Any remaining fears that the evening might turn into a clunker were put to rest when, out of nowhere, Donald Trump showed up with his entourage, along with his new wife, former model Melania.  The Trumps were married just two months earlier in West Palm Beach, some 70 miles north of Miami.  They still looked and behaved like newlyweds together.  Their son Barron was born about a year later.

This was long before Trump had expressed any political aspirations.  However, a new television show “The Apprentice” had debuted a year earlier on NBC which had already spawned a spin-off.  The Trump name was hotter than the Manhattan commercial real estate market, and the cleverest con-man and carnival barker of them all was about to take full advantage of his swelling notoriety.

Newly married, with a hit-TV show in full production, his name plastered on consumer products from beef steaks to fancy hotels and golf courses — hell, he even had his own university! — Donald Trump was about to launch the mega-roll of a lifetime.  Following more than a decade of ugly divorces, business collapses, bankruptcies, and embarrassing personal misfortunes, Trump was about to embark on the most remarkable personal marketing campaign ever witnessed in American politics and culture.

However, no one knew any of this way back on the balmy Miami evening of March 7, 2005 in South Beach.

He was still just Donald Trump, a.k.a. “The Donald,” there to pay his respects to Shaq O’Neal on the occasion of the NBA star’s 33rd birthday.

______

Parties attended by celebs are full of players, and by this I don’t mean the sporting kind.  Everyone’s a player.  Everyone has ulterior motives.

Everyone.

Well, maybe not Shaq and his immediate circle of teammates and “friends.”  However, the people who go to all the trouble of fancying themselves up and attending such events do so for a variety of reasons — some personal and others professional.  Perhaps it’s to make new contacts and/or re-establish relationships currently in the works.  Maybe it’s to gold-dig a rich athlete into a paternity suit or better yet, marriage, which for some conspiring females amounts to cashing a lottery ticket.  It might be a way for a nobody who aspires to be a somebody to get cheap publicity.  Sometimes it’s just to giggle and gawk at the rich and famous.

At least I was paid to be there.

As the party’s official sponsor — make that co-sponsor, along with the surprise co-partnership of Hennessy — PokerStars.com was permitted to set up two live-action poker tables.  Hopefully, the party guests would make their way over to compete for various prizes and charity gift certificates and we could get some good press out of all this.  Like I said — ulterior motives.

Unfortunately, there was a huge problem right from the start.

Without any forethought by those put in charge of logistics, the two poker tables were positioned outdoors on the second-floor terrace next to a swimming pool overlooking the ocean.  That might have been perfect for a poker game in the afternoon.  But for games to be played much closer to midnight and later into the early morning perhaps, the night sky presented a huge problem.

No one could see their hole cards!

Making matters considerably worse, South Beach evenings are known for steady breezes off the ocean.  This made each poker table a potential confetti machine.  The flop would be put out, a gust of wind would suddenly blow off the waves, and the cards would go flying towards to pool.

Wait!  I flopped a full house!

Too bad — misdeal!

Despite the hardships poor lighting, wind gusts, and flying cards, the poker games still proved to be a good draw.  Trouble was, none of the celebrities were showing up.  Sure, it was nice that lots of stargazers and broke nobodies wanted to play poker with us and compete for chip sets and schwag bags.  But what was the whole point of spending $135,000 (plus expenses) as the host, if we couldn’t get the A-listers to come over and join the game for at least a couple of minutes?

That required Rich Korbin and I to get creative.

______

Rich and I made it a mission to work on the big two.  That meant getting Shaq and Trump.

As manipulative as it all soudns, we had to get at least one photo of Shaq towering over the PokerStars.com table, confidently holding a poker hand, putting on a convincing shit sham that he was indeed having a total blast along with the PokerStars.com crew.  Basically, that’s the real background of just about every publicity photo you will ever see.  Fake.  Staged.

Rich, you go get Shaq!

I’ll get Trump!

At this point, an argument broke out.  Some public relations person who had been involved heavily in the pre-party planning approached.  In a testy exchange, we expressed some considerable disappointment that the celebrities weren’t coming over to play poker.

Get us some celebrities!

Get Shaq!

The lady had sure talked a great game for weeks before, but come to find out — she didn’t really know Shaq from shit.  She’d promised to deliver everyone from Kobe Bryant to Robert De Niro at this party, and she came up about four diamonds short of a flush.  But, to her credit, we were drawing to a solid pair — Shaq and Trump.

“Where am I going to find Shaq in that crowd?” the PR lady asked.  “There’s at least 500 people at this party.”

My reply was something to the effect — “Gee, I don’t know.  Try looking for the 7′ 1″ Black guy dressed in white suit topped with a fedora.”

The xenostrobe flashing at Miami International Airport couldn’t have stood out any more than Shaq O’Neal in that room.

So, the PR lady worked her considerable talent on getting us Shaq.  That left Rich and I to do some Trump trophy hunting.

_____

The party downstairs had turned into a mob scene.  Chaos.  Security had apparently departed for the evening, and with the doors of a fully-functional hotel now wide open on a Saturday night, ass jokers were streaming in off the street, drawn like a steel to a magnet to the prospect of a free open bar and hanging out with a bunch of celebrities.  You couldn’t move.  Thick as flies on a rotting corpse.

Rich and I barreled our way through the crowd.  To our quick surprise, we spotted Trump.  He was standing off to the side near a wall, whispering something to Melania.  Incredibly, no one seemed to be bothering Trump much, who appeared somewhat bored with what was happening.  This was our big chance to nab a celebrity for the poker game.

Rich and I darted straight ahead for Trump when all the sudden what few lights were on inside the cavernous room went dim, and out of nowhere a spotlight appeared onto a makeshift stage close to where the Trumps were standing.

Boom boxes started blasting a rap song, bursting all but the most buttressed of eardrums, and then a sexy young woman dressed in a black evening dress stepped into the spotlight.  The entire room was transfixed on the spectacle.  Rich and I stopped dead in our tracks.

Cheering.  Haaaaaaaaappppy 33rd birthday — Shaaaaaaaaaaaaaqqqqqqqqqqq!

Boom!  Boom!  Boom-boom-boom!  Boom!  Boom!  Boom-boom-boom!

The pretty woman hoisted a violin onto her shoulder and launched into one of the most rousing displays of musical creativity I’ve witnessed.  Come to find out later, the rapper was off to the side rapping live, and the woman joined impromptu into the makeshift duet with a staggering virtuoso of electric violin, superimposing a Vivaldi concerto layered brilliantly over the top of a bunch of indecipherable, but catchy lyrics.  The classical violinist.  The rapper.  It was mayhem.  It was also fantastic.

Shaq, the star and beloved birthday boy, was standing in the middle of the room some 15 feet away, bobbing his head up and down to the beat like a steady dribble.  Within another minute or so, the music became infectious.  Pretty soon, everyone’s head was bobbing to the beat like the wave.  Rich’s head was bobbing to the beat.  We looked over and Trump’s head was bobbing.  Melania, too.  Gee, this spectacle was great and all.  But this music was shooting our poker plans all to shit.

After about 20 minutes, the performance was over and our prize catch was still swimming in the party pool.  He had our hooks set.  Trump was within sight.

I don’t remember if it was Rich or me who started with the small talk, which we both admittedly don’t like.  Trump hates small talk too, from recent testimonials of his personality.  Gee, I wish we’d just come right out and said what was really on our minds at the time — Mr. Trump….we need a favor….would you help us out for a couple of minutes?  He’d likely have gone along.  But instead, we wiggled through the usual conversational gymnastics trying desperately to get Trump to join the poker game upstairs.  Trump politely declined.

I will say, and this comes as no surprise — Trump was cordial and even somewhat charming.  One doesn’t get to that level without some degree of personal magnetism, and even though I didn’t like him even back then, he was a perfect gentleman.  One might even say given his penchant for being famous, that he was (and is) naturally gifted at parties and in social engagements.

While Rich and I were congratulating the Trumps on their new marriage, a photographer appeared from nowhere and asked if we’d like a photo.

Yes!  Absolutely!

Rich and I aren’t exactly smitten with celebrities.  However, the image of a couple of PokerStars.com guys hitched alongside Donald and Melania Trump would be a nice PR nick knack.

The grimy photographer didn’t seem very professional about his job and the way he was handling things.  Presumably, he was going around the party, taking shots of famous people.  He could have been a freelancer.  He might have been paparazzi.  He might have been off the street.  Who knew?

I knew one thing.  I had to get that photograph, no matter what it took.  In the conniving world of modern marketing and PR, photos with famous people are currency.

To make certain I got the photo, I gave the photographer my business card, which listed my mailing address and telephone number.  To guarantee the photo was sent, this required something a bit extra.  So, I slipped him $100.

The photographer took a few photos.  We all smiled and shook hands.

We never saw or heard from the photographer again.

_____

To this day, there’s no actual evidence showing me meeting Donald Trump.

Well — at least, there should be evidence out there which shows that we finally got Shaq O’Neal to play poker.  Right?

Uh, read on….

The PR lady had promised us Shaq.  It was long past time to deliver.  Now, it was close to 2 am and guests were starting to leave the party.

Shaq remained a no-show.

Pissed as hell and trying to figure out what we were going to say to higher ups at PokerStars.com, explaining why Shaq didn’t play poker that night despite paying the freight for the party, the NBA All Star was finally coaxed into coming outside by the pool.  By this time, all the boundaries of security were long gone and Shaq was pretty much a moving target of anyone with bold enough to approach him for an autograph, or a photo, or a business idea, or a joke or any other mindless time-wasting augmentation of being a rich and famous celebrity.

Hey Shaq!  Over here!

Look, it’s Shaq!

Shaq, my man!

Got a sec, Shaq?  This will just take a second.  My brother’s on the phone.  He’s a big fan.  Can you just say hello?

The PR lady made good on her promise and Shaq scurried his way over to the poker table with a trail of fan barnacles.  The look on his face revealed this was the very last place he wanted to be at 2 am on his birthday, while his basketball buddies were downstairs partying their asses off.  Even though we were in the midst of a Sit n’ Go, no one at the table cared about the interruption.  Chips were fished out of the rack, and placed in front of Shaq like he was some Egyptian pharaoh.

Look!  Shaq’s playing poker!  Shaq’s playing poker!  Go Shaq!

Within a few seconds, it became painfully obvious something was very wrong.

“What do I do now?” Shaq asked.

The dealer explained the action, that it was his decision to either call the bet, raise, or fold.  Shaq didn’t have a clue what was going on.  However, he’d apparently seen enough poker on television somewhere to move all-in.  Shaq moved all-in.

Shaq’s raise was snap-called in two spots, and Shaq rolled over something like 9-4 off-suit.  The board didn’t help, and Shaq was out of action in one hand.

I forgot if it was me, or Rich, or Brad Willis (who was blogging that night for PokerStars.com), but one of us yelled out, “Give Shaq more chips!  Rebuy!  Don’t let Shaq leave!”

Shaq was promptly given another fresh stack of chips.  On the very next hand, the same thing happened.  Shaq went broke.

Again, Shaq was given more chips and the Sit n’ Go suddenly had all the integrity of a rigged South American soccer match.

Three stacks into the game, and Shaq dying to split and go back to his party with pals Tracy McGrady and Alonzo Mourning, we suddenly realized that no one had a camera.  This was a few years before smart phones came out, which enabled everyone with an instant camera-phone.

Where’s the photographer?!!!  Where’s the photographer?!!!

Someone came to our rescue and quickly produced a camera, and Shaq was photographed shoehorned into the six seat, his giant 350-pound frame crushing a fragile metal folding chair, his mammoth size and stature overwhelming the felt while holding up two hole cards like he’s just drawn out on Johnny Chan heads-up for the world championship, pearly whites flashing brighter than his ivory suit.

High fives all around.

We got it!  We finally got it!  We got the photo with Shaq playing poker!

Now, twelve years later, I still have not seen that photo of Shaq playing poker — that elusive photo that essentially cost us $135,000 to get.  But, that photo is floating out there somewhere.  Somebody has it.

I swear.

______

Cynicism is the final tumbling domino of broken illusions.

I’m betting if you surveyed those 500 or so people who attended Shaq’s 33rd birthday party that night, and queried them on who was the official sponsor, no more than 50 would have answered “PokerStars.com.”  Perhaps 1 in 10.  Hennessy probably would have polled only slightly better.

PokerStars.com might as well have handed out $20 bills on the streets of Downtown Miami.  That would have been money wiser spent.

By 4 am, the party was done and we’d broken down the poker tables and put away the cards and chips.  Time to leave.  We were about to say our goodbye’s, until the next gig.

Then, out of nowhere, Rich Korbin appeared with a marketing idea.

“Have you ever heard of Katt Williams?” he asked.

“Katt who?”

“Katt Williams.”

No.  Never heard of him.  Rich explained to me that Katt was waiting for us downstairs.  He wanted to meet both of us, interested in the prospect of receiving some kind of paid sponsorship with PokerStars.com.  At the very least, Katt was interested in playing for the site, if we agreed to post the $10,000 entry fee to Main Event of the World Series of Poker, just three months away.

“It’s four fucking a.m.”

Rich, I must say, is on the ball.  Always.  24/7.  Somehow, he set up an impromptu meeting which was to take place in exactly 15 minutes, inside the hotel cafe, which was closed and completely dark.

Wait, we’re going to meet some aspiring stand-up comic right now at 4 in the morning, in a dark restaurant?  After a party?  Really?  What the fuck?

So, Rich and I went downstairs and were met by Katt Williams and his sister, who served as his manager.  The meeting lasted about 45 minutes.

Katt’s sister impressed the hell out of both of us.  What a pistol.  She was an astonishingly convincing marketer and pitch person.  You couldn’t say no to her.  Within just a few minutes, Rich and I might as well have been eating of out of her hand.

This meeting was a godsend.  Admittedly, the rest of the evening had produced mixed results.  However, we were ready to sign Katt that instant.  ON.  THE.  SPOT.  He was young.  He was edgy.  And, he was Black, which might sound racially biased, but from marketing standpoint — which should focus on the future rather than the past — was a noteworthy diversion from the usual sponsored poker players and celebrities made up pretty much of white bread.  He was also extremely polite and couldn’t have been more impressive, in person.  Then and there, Rich and I knew instantly that Katt Williams was going somewhere in show biz.  Within just a few years, Katt Williams was appearing in his own HBO specials.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t get PokerStars.com to sign Katt to a sponsorship.  That was a huge disappointment to us.  The decision to pass on Katt was one of the few marketing mistakes our company made during my years I was with them.

No worries.  Katt ended up doing pretty well on his own, without the help of PokerStars.com.

Katt Williams even appeared in a comedy special a few years later, “Friends with Shaq,” the friendship likely bonded that night in South Beach.

 

 

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Revealing my own complicit behavior in going along with the sham, here’s how I was quoted in the official party press release which was distributed the next day to all media via PR Newswire:

“We were thrilled to be invited to join Shaq’s friends and family for this intimate gathering,” said Nolan Dalla, Director of Communications for PokerStars.com. “It was a great way for us to come together with many of our celebrity poker fans and wish someone who continues to give us year after year of truly memorable basketball a very happy birthday. We were thrilled with the turnout, which included so many great athletes and celebrities.”

 

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The Night I Met Donald Trump at Shaq O’Neal’s 33rd Birthday Party

Posted by on Mar 9, 2017 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, Personal | 3 comments

 

 

Twelve years ago tonight, I met Donald Trump at the most unlikely of affairs — former NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal’s 33rd birthday bash in Miami Beach.

Why was I invited?  I have no connections to the NBA or Miami’s hipster social scene.  I hate going to parties.  And, hanging out with celebrities is way overrated.

Well, I wasn’t invited to Shaq’s party, exactly.  But I did fly all the way across the country.  I stayed the entire evening.  I also hung out with celebs including Shaq O’Neil, future President Donald Trump, and a young up-and-coming comedian who shall be mentioned later.

I’m writing about this story for the first time.

_____

Two months earlier, right after New Years, I was at the Sea World park in San Diego on a family vacation.  Miami Beach, Shaq O’Neal, and Donald Trump were 3,000 miles away, but might as well have been somewhere on the moon — for all I cared.

That’s when my cell phone rang.

The voice on the other end informed me about a potential marketing and public relations opportunity for the company I was working for at the time.  In addition to my annual seasonal work at the World Series of Poker, I also worked full-time for PokerStars.com, serving as their Director of Communications.  Those were exciting days to be working in poker, when we all had money to burn and the sky was the limit.

For the princely sum of $135,000 PokerStars.com had the chance to be the “official sponsor” for Shaquille O’Neal’s 33rd birthday party.  That figure amounted to pocket change for Isai Scheinberg, PokerStars.com’s enterprising founder and then-owner/CEO.  Shaq’s party was certain the be the social event of early 2005, even going so far as to generate national attention, especially in the sports and entertainment media.  O’Neal was then at the top of his game.  He’d just left the Los Angeles Lakers where he won an NBA title, signed as a free agent with the Miami Heat where he joined legendary head coach Pat Riley.  He’d lead them to their first world championship the following year.

O’Neal wasn’t just a basketball player.  He was a superstar.  He appeared in movies and was one of the most recognizable athletes in the world.

$135,000 sure sounded like a bargain.

Sponsoring the birthday bash meant paying for the mega-party which was to be held on ritzy South Beach, on the night after the Heat played a home game in Miami in early March.  Everyone who was anyone was invited and expected to attend.  This party included a stellar guest list certain to generate lots of publicity and perhaps even some much-needed goodwill with numerous celebrities.  TMZ would even be there, their cameras rolling, just in case anything wild happened.

After a follow-up conversation with Dan Goldman (PokerStars.com’s Director of Marketing) and Isai, we jumped at the chance to host Shaq’s party.

This wasn’t just about poker.  This was Creative Branding 101.  This was being hip.  This was being at the center of the scene where much of our player demographic wanted to be.  We were about to entertain the most popular sports stars in America, numerous A-List celebrities, and one brash New York real estate developer who a dozen years later would become the 45th President of the United States.

What could go wrong?

_____

In early 2005, PokerStars.com ranked the second-largest online poker site in the world.  The site was raking in millions, remarkable since at the time there were no more than about 200 employees worldwide.  The site might as well have been a mint.  PokerStars.com was printing money.

But for Isai, and his son Mark (who was just as instrumental in building the site and creating the empire that was to come), ranking second was totally unacceptable.  We knew our software was superior to the game design used by industry kingpin, PartyPoker.com.  We knew our customer service was top notch in the industry, out hustling every other company in the gaming sector, including the land-based casinos which might as well have been living in the previous century.  We knew that our top management was genuinely driven by something more than just making money and was run by dedicated poker people who knew the game backwards and forwards and were clued into what players wanted in a poker experience.

The push was on to become the number one poker site in the world, both in terms of daily traffic and reputation.  Sponsoring non-gambling mainstream events like Shaq’s birthday party was yet another way to try and legitimize our company — which despite our best efforts — was still tainted as a shady gambling company based someplace that might as well have been Outer Mongolia, and therefore was quasi-legal.

Of course, no one gave this financial shakedown a second thought.  The irony of multi-millionaire athletes, presumed billionaire financiers, and movie stars having their personal entertainment paid for by an outside company was preposterous.

We’d all jumped the shark.  This was cultural insanity.

_____

Shaq’s birthday party took place at the swanky Hotel Victor, a refurbished Art Deco percolator for Miami’s “in crowd,” where South Beach’s thriving gay scene intersected with local elite.  Think of the movie — “Birdcage.”  A few years earlier, fashion icon Gianni Versace had been gunned down just steps away from the main entrance to Hotel Victor.

Rich Korbin and I became the chosen ones.  We were plucked to play the role of party hosts, representing the official sponsor — PokerStars.com.  My qualifications for this role were suspect, at best.  However, Rich was essential to the operation.

Rich was known as the man to get things done at Stars.  “The fixer” has a bad connotation.  But if we had a fixer, it was Rich.  He made things happen, and it was usually best not to ask about details.  We didn’t want to know.  When we’d ship stuff to events and ran into the Teamsters Union, and we needed our freight moved before everyone else’s shit got rained on at the loading docks, Rich greased the wheels and got us set up before everyone else.  When it came time to negotiating a new deal with a supplier playing had ball on the contract, Rich ball-busted the shit out of them.  That was Rich’s talent.  “The Art of the Deal” should have been written by Rich Korbin.

Rich also seemed to have connections just about everywhere.  So, he hired a handful of local poker dealers based around Miami to pitch cards all night.  We planned on running two poker tables non-stop as long as they’d let us run the games.  Given the legal restrictions against gambling and the precious time demands of party guests, we agreed it was best to run something called Sit n’ Go’s.  That’s basically a small tournament of 9-10 players, usually lasting not more than 30-40 minutes.  We expected to give away thousands of dollars in prizes.  Hopefully, the media would stick around and we’d get some “free” promotion for PokerStars.com, which would only end up costing us closer to $160,000 with all the extras added in.

Who knows — maybe Rich and I might even make TMZ.

_____

Sometime around 30 years ago, an unknown marketeer saw a tremendous opportunity in the mundane.  Take a closer look at old movie newsreels of athletes and celebrities.  When out in public back in those days, famous people up through the end of the 1970’s were almost always interviewed while bunched up in crowds along with other people hanging out in the background.  Entertainment and sports media lacked much in the way of commercialization.  There were no logos.  Corporations didn’t dabble in what later became known as — entertainment marketing.

Then, at some point during the “Greed is Good” 1980’s, a marketing maven somewhere who likely never got proper credit (more fittingly, the blame) for the idea saw lots of precious media real estate being wasted and decided to change every aspect of how pop culture is covered in the modern age.  And so, that’s how the “Step and Repeat” banner got invented.  When the person of the focus took a step, the logo was imagery repeated over both shoulders.  It didn’t matter where the celebrity stood or the position of the head and face.  There was the logo behind.  Note that’s how the banner got its name.

Today, you can’t watch a soccer game or see an interview with a movie star on television without absorbing a corporate logo plastered somewhere on the screen.  The Step and Repeat banner is now used everywhere, in all sports and major media events.  After a ball game, athletes are interviewed with corporate logos emblazoned in the background.  Now, even parties have the unremitting Step and Repeat banner in the background, and Shaq’s Miami bash was no exception.

Our banner that was special made that evening included logos from PokerStars.com and — much to my shock when I initially saw it — Hennessy, the brand of cognac which has a reputation for being a favorite of hipsters.

What in the hell was Hennessy doing on our Step and Repeat banner?  We paid a premium for that space!

That was the first time I’d seen Hennessy was involved in our party.  I’d been led to believe PokerStars.com had an exclusive on the marketing.  Gee, I wonder if Hennessy had to fork over $135,000 for their role as the “official sponsor?”  Err, make that — “co-sponsor.”  Something seemed dirty about this deal.  Of course, this is how those deals work.  It’s standard practice.  This is the bait and switch game, and companies fall for it — hook, line, and sinker — every time.

Still, if we were going to share media exposure, then I suppose we could do a helluva’ lot worse than being connected to Hennessy.  Poker and a premium liquor — that’s a coveted pairing.  Fortunately, we didn’t have to share the limelight with chewing tobacco, or tires, or worse — an insurance company.  Thank you, Geico — for presumably not returning the phone call or we might have been paired with that green lizard.

That night, the Miami Heat defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 108-100.  That was a good thing.  We didn’t want the Heat to lose, which might have cast a spell over the jovial expectations of Shaq’s birthday party.  Winning basketball players are happy basketball players.  Oh, and thank goodness the game didn’t go into double-overtime, which could wrecked the evening.

Sometime around 9 pm, Tara Reid was among the first celebrities to show up on the red carpet and walk the Step and Repeat, which marked the glitzy entrance to Hotel Victor.  Reid was either so drunk or so stoned off her ass that she had to be helped up the ramp to walk.  She was a hot mess.

Limos and Bentleys and Rolls Royces pulled up in front at the red carpet and one by one the celebrities paraded like pretty people in front of the cameras.  I worked the red carpet “line,” making sure the dozens of media outlets got the shots they needed while making certain no celebs were held up for too long by any one photographer or interviewer.  My mission was to keep the line flowing steadily, getting the shots, and making sure the celebrities weren’t overwhelmed.

My career had been reduced to an ass-kissing enabler.

 

Coming Next in Part 2:  Meeting Trump and Playing Poker with Shaq

 

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Facing the Firing Squad: Roger Rodd (Comedian)

Posted by on Mar 6, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Facing the Firing Squad | 0 comments

 

 

MEET ROGER RODD:

If great comedy requires courage, then Roger Rodd is the bravest of souls.

The versatile Los Angeles-based comedian and actor, perhaps best-known for his anti-politically correct stage act and topical rantings on current events which are posted almost by-the-hour on social media, reveals an unshakable chasm between what we so often think versus what we often can’t say.

On cue, Roger just comes out and speaks his mind anyway.  He’s even willing to risk offending some people, convinced that hurt feelings are best tranquilized by the sound of laughter.

Consider one of his trademark professional endeavors, which is guest appearing at various “Black clubs” around the country, which is to say venues that cater primarily to African-American audiences.  This is where Roger is at his wicked best.  Nothing in the script gets changed.  No part of the act is toned down due to sensitivity.  Roger walks that razor-thin edge between humor and being offensive like a high-wire trapeze artist.

Of course, sometimes he falls.

Like any risk taker, some might think that Roger crosses an invisible and ever-changing line on what’s tasteful and appropriate.  That’s not intended as criticism.  Instead, that’s a compliment.  To reach the very edge of the steep comedic cliff and get the best view sometimes requires stepping a little too far and then falling into the abyss.  Then, one crawls out of the pit, gets back up on his feet, learns a lesson or two, and goes right back to performing — swinging and missing and hitting plenty of home runs.  That’s Roger Rodd.

The stage act and the person are connected in many ways.  But, they are also different.  As with many comedians, there’s typically something far deeper going on within the psyche when writing and performing a comedy act, especially and edgier show.  Some might even see this as a dark place.  Other know the art of comedy as personal introspection.  The act becomes the manifestation of an insatiable curiosity about culture and society that must be explored and deserves to be pressure tested.

I’ve known Roger for more than ten years.  We first met in Lake Tahoe.  I have been a fan ever since.

Thanks to Roger Rodd for agreeing to my ongoing series, “Facing the Firing Squad.”

LINK TO ROGERRODD.COM HERE

FOLLOW ROGER ON TWITTER HERE

FOLLOW ROGER ON FACEBOOK HERE

Here’s a short highlight reel of Roger doing stand up:

 

 

FACING THE FIRING SQUAD:

 

Q:  What are some of the things you stand for?

Rodd:  The legalization of all drugs, prostitution, and gambling,

Legalizing all forms of death, meaning abortion, death penalty for all who kill, and euthanasia,

Seize all churches and donate them to the homeless,

Enforce the death penalty for any form of religion, where anybody but the immediate family, gathers ANYWHERE BUT inside of their own domicile.  Humanity’s disgraceful track record of god gatherings is well founded.

 

Q:  What are some of the things you stand against?

Rodd:  Obstinate ignorance and denial, in the face of hard evidence.

Any religious infusion into what was designed to be our secular government.

The military-industrial complex and their “whores for hire” media.

“Blanket respect” and “blanket judgments.”  Both need to be lost or earned on an individual basis ONLY.

 

Q:  What living person do you admire the most, and why?

Rodd:  My mother. S he is a Great Depression-toughened member of the generation who are the reason we aren’t speaking German.

Her values and integrity run through my soul.

 

Q:  What historical figure do you admire the most, and why?

Rodd:  Never having known their personal lives, and knowing only their public persona, nobody qualifies.

The disparity and magnitude of those two perceptions in terms of deserving my admiration causes me to say — “Nobody.”

I used to think O.J. was a great guy.

My personal historical figure of admiration is my father.  He was a decorated WW II survivor of a Kamikaze attack with 52 casualties, who swam over a mile to shore with shrapnel buried all over his body.

When it was my turn to fight a war, there was a problem with my feet.

They were in Canada.

 

Q:  What living person do you despise?

Rodd:  None who are in MY personal life.  Why allow that negativity to rent a space in your head?

Regarding public figures, that’s WAY too long of a list, with far too many vying for the top slot.

 

Q:  If money were not an object, what profession would you chose?

Rodd:  Beach Lifeguard.  If it would’ve paid enough, I never would’ve left the tower.

 

Q:  What is it about yourself that you are most proud of?

Rodd:  Learning from my father how to never quit.

Q:  What is it about yourself that you’d like to change?

Rodd:  Nothing.  We all have faults but if asked the question, “Would you like to have a person like you for a friend, I’d emphatically say — yes.”

 

Q:  What’s the most exciting thing you’ve ever done?

Rodd:  Toss up between skydiving and making a “life or death” rescue.

 

Q:  What’s the most unusual time and place you’ve ever visited?

Rodd:  A Scientology camp that hired me for the day as an actor.

 

Q:  Name a place you’ve never visited where you still want to go.

Rodd:  Australia

 

Q:  Favorite book, favorite movie, and favorite musician.

Rodd:  Book — North Dallas Forty

Movie — “Lifeguard”

Musician — None.  Music is FAR too overrated.

 

Q:  What upsets you the most?

Rodd:  The stupidity of humanity.

 

Q:  What bores you?

Rodd:  Monsters.

 

Q:  What would it take for humanity to reach its true potential?
 
Rodd:  The elimination of ALL religions.
It is THE single and most DIRECT cause of all human misery.

 

Q:  Do you believe in an afterlife and why do you believe it so?

Rodd:  When something cannot be proven or disproven, the only sensible answer is — “I don’t know.”

_____

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Is the Federal Government Really Too Big?

Posted by on Mar 5, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 6 comments

 

 

How big is the federal government exactly?

If we listen to critics, especially conservative pundits and fiery activists who constantly attack the size and scope of Washington’s reputed bureaucracy, we’re led to believe the federal government is a behemoth, incurably dysfunctional, and even parasitical — sucking the very life’s blood out of society.

Is this true?

Let’s examine the most reliable statistical evidence that’s available as to the true size of government, which is the total number of federal employees.

In 1960, as the final months of the Eisenhower Administration were winding down and John F. Kennedy was about to take office, there were about 1.8 million bureaucrats working within the federal system.  That number doesn’t include military personnel, nor employees of the U.S. Postal System.  Remember that number — 1.8 million.

Many opponents of “big government” cite this period — circa 1960 — as the golden age of America’s dominance when we were the world’s preeminent economic and military superpower.  Yes, that’s an accurate assessment.  The United States was unquestionably the most prosperous nation in the world at the time, by any measure.

Since 1960, much has changed.  Now 57 years later, our nation’s population has increased from about 180 million to nearly 325 million.  That figure represents about an 80 percent increase in population within a time span of only two generations.  The federal system has also expanded significantly, just as one might expect with a booming population increase (in addition to perhaps 8-10 million more undocumented workers who also reside here).

Consider what’s happened since 1960 in terms of the actual composition of government.  No significant programs have been cut.  However, many programs and new responsibilities have been added.  No federal agencies were eliminated.  However, many were created.  Medicare became law (in 1965) which provided tens of millions of seniors with health coverage.  Six new cabinet-level agencies were also formed — including Housing and Urban Development (1965) , Transportation (1966), Energy (1977), Education (1979), Veterans Affairs (1989), and Homeland Security (2003).  Moreover, the EPA was created (1972).  Oh, and then there are other federally-funded initiatives — including the Peace Corps, the National Endowment for the Arts, PBS, NPR, and several other agencies which might lead us to believe the size of government has mushroomed in size.

Indeed, since the Eisenhower era, government has assumed an important role in health care, retirement planning, public housing, education, energy, workplace safety, civil rights, domestic security (consider the size of the TSA at airports), and the environment.  That’s a lot of new federal workers doing stuff that government didn’t used to do.

Given what’s seemingly been a huge increase in the size of our government, combined with a significant population increase nationwide, now here’s my question:

What would you estimate the number of federal employees to be today?

Remember, back in 1960, there were 1.8 million federal workers.

Take your time.  When ready, take a guess.

The actual number may surprise you.  Even the staunchest liberals among might be shocked to learn the total number of federal employees is approximately….2,079,000.

For those who are bad at math, that’s about a 14 percent increase over the past 57 years.

14 percent.

Wow.

[A complete breakdown from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) can be found HERE at the government’s official website.  The number of federal employees is listed by year, since 1940.]

Given these startling facts, is it really fair then to keep on criticizing so-called “big government?”  The number of government employees has hardly gone up at all.

Why is this so?  Well, the federal system has become far more efficient within the past six decades.  Civil servants are doing far more work with less employees than before.  Certainly, office automation and various technological advances have contributed to what’s been only modest-size increases in the number of federal workers.  However, there’s even something more remarkable happening here.

What we’re seeing is this — government works quite well when it’s managed properly.  Government provides us with the essential protections and services that we need, and at a relative bargain for what we’re getting.  And, it’s never functioned more efficiently, as is reveled by looking at the number of workers and the broad spectrum of duties entrusted to the federal government — including everything from making sure our hamburger meat is safe enough to eat to keeping planes in the sky from crashing into each other.

Now, hold on.  There’s more.  Here’s the real shocker.

While the number of federal employees it takes to do all the important things that government does has remained stagnant over many decades, what’s happening within the murky macrocosm of the defense establishment is downright scandalous.

Since President Eisenhower warned us about the evils of the military and defense establishment in his farewell address in 1960, for-profit contractors have pigged-out at taxpayer expense like no other beneficiaries of government.  In fact, there are nearly as many defense-related contract employees now feeding off American taxpayers as full-time civilians who work for the Department of Defense.

Citing research performed by John J. Dilulio at the Brookings Institution, and published in his 2014 book titled, “Bring Back the Bureaucrats,” conservative political columnist George Will took on this important issue recently.  He noted there are about 770,000 for-profit contractors working in defense, compared to about 800,000 federal workers doing similar work.  That’s an astonishing overreach of budget and manpower appropriation, amounting to tens of billions of wasted tax dollars, especially so if the current Administration’s call for decreasing international intervention is to be believed.  Other national security-related agencies too, most notably intelligence, are just as wildly out of control when it comes to federal employees, private contractors, and overall spending in light of all the belt-tightening elsewhere.

So, next time you hear the same old stage complaints about the alleged evils of “big government,” let’s remember the actual data.  Look at the facts.  Facts are not partisan.

We should all agree on at least one thing.  Part of the federal government is way too big.  Yes, indeed.  Federal spending is out of control, and there are way too many workers — at least in one sector.  And that sector is the bloated defense establishment.

Not to be outdone by his hawkish predecessors, in his first federal budget (for fiscal year 2018), President Trump has just proposed $54 billion in cuts to various federal agencies.

President Trump also proposed an increase of $54 billion….for defense.

 

FOOTNOTE:  While we’re at it, let’s also dispel the falsehood that the size of the federal government increased during the Obama Administration (2009-2016).  According to the OPM’s own data, the number of federal workers during President Obama’s first full year in office was about 2,774,000.  During the most recent year statistics were available (2014), the number of government employees was 2,663,000.  That’s a decrease.

 

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Gambling for a Living: A Madness to My Method

Posted by on Mar 3, 2017 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, Personal, Sports Betting | 2 comments

 

 

Writer’s Note:  This is PART 4 in my ongoing series, “Gambling For a Living.”  What follows is a partial recollection of my sports betting escapades over the course of 2016.  For other chapters, please read PART 1, PART 2, and PART 3.

 

Sunlight sanitizes the dim hue of gambling daily.

All the time wasted and ultimately lost — days, nights, weeks, weekdays, and weekends — prodding often so pointlessly and more often still so profitlessly — crunching ideas, testing theories, reading injury reports on squeaky laptops and cracked smartphone screens — eyes darting back and forth between ball scores — the “previous” button battered on the remote control beyond recognition — my solitary self-made man-cave begins narrowing slowly.  Life becomes absorbed within this timeless vacuum, sucking all the life and energy out of everything else that’s happening in the vast beyond, to which one becomes oblivious and indifferent.

Winning or losing has no impact on this dark place.

There’s a reason why convicts shackled up in solitary confinement are given at least an hour of daily sunshine.  Twenty-three hours spent locked within an isolation chamber of unbreakable steel walls are at least temporarily forgotten when the warmth of the sun’s rays hit the face and sink into the body.  This stimulant along with human contact keeps a prisoner from going mad.

The sun is my salvation.

*     *     *     *     *

August, 2016.

108 degrees today in Las Vegas.  Kick-off in five minutes.

Five months of full-time sports betting has provided me with a modest profit, and much to my surprise, almost narcissistic personal satisfaction.  It’s ridiculous, because I could have spent all those hours doing something not just constructive, but likely more financial rewards.  But there’s something inherently pleasing, even smug worthy, about doong what few people can and beating something that few people have mastered.

Sure, almost all sports gamblers talk a good game.  Ask any sports gambler is he’s a winner and damn near 100 percent will say yes.  Indeed, they might look successful.  But virtually all heavy sports bettors have reliable sources of outside income that help to cast the illusion of success.  Beating the vig in the long run is far more difficult than people realize.

I have no other outside sources of income, and so I was sort of forced into this role.  The bills are due.  The mortgage needs to be paid.  Oh, and one of my cars has 130,000 miles on it and the engine is starting to make funny sounds.

C’mon Los Angeles Rams!  Daddy doesn’t need a new pair of shoes!  He needs a new timing chain!

My $7,000 wager on this “meaningless” preseason football game promises to set the tone for the entire 2016 NFL season.  Worst-case scenario — it’s gonna’ be brutally tough to dig myself out of a $7,000 hole, that is, if I lose this bet.  The way things have been going, that’s about two months worth of what I’ve managed to make so far, while doing this full time, and that was mostly on baseball, which will end soon.  I’d have to pick fourteen $500 winners per game down the road just to get back to even (actually, more than that, with the vig).  To put that into perspective, only 80 or so entrants out of 1,727 — which is less than 5 percent of the field — who entered last year’s NFL Handicapping Contest at the Westgate (what used to be the Las Vegas Hilton Super Contest) finished fourteen games above .500 or greater, for the entire season.

But if I manage to win, that’s a strong head start and a nice financial cushion to invest in the upcoming football season, given my average bet size usually ranges between $300 and $500.  The bottom line is — this isn’t merely a $7,000 game for me, which would still be a lot.  It’s really a $10,800 game, since that’s the full amounts of the financial swing.

Indeed, this is money that means something.  They say you never know the real value of money until you don’t have any.  This will sound strange to non-gamblers, but every serious sports bettor will understand it.  I’ve wagered $5,000 on ball games dozens of times over the years, even on teams where I couldn’t name a single player.  Once, I bet $39,000 on a Super Bowl game [READ THAT STORY HERE].  Still, there’s no correlation between the size of a bet and the pressure to win it.  Most of the time when I’ve bet big in the past, I had enough money to cover the loss, and then some.  Notice I said, most of the time.

Fact is, this is a bet I really cannot afford to lose.  I need the Los Angeles Rams to win the game.  That’s it.  No point spread.  Rams on the money line, laying no points.  Just win baby.

This is the first NFL game played in Los Angeles since before the turn of the century.  Although it’s just a preseason game, 92,000 fans still pack the L.A. Coliseum to welcome the Rams back to Southern California (just three months later, they’ll be calling for the coach’s head to be fired, and they get their wish).  Based on the win-loss records from the previous season, the 7-9 Rams should be able to easily handle the 4-12 Cowboys, especially with the extra motivation of wanting to start off the new era in Los Angeles with a big win for the hometown fans.

Dallas should mail it in.  The veteran starter, Tony Romo is out. He’s not even suiting up to play.   The second-string quarterback got injured in training camp.  Some kid that no one has ever heard of who was drafted in the middle of the fourth round is starting for the Cowboys.  His name is Dak Prescott.

The game begins, and meanwhile — I’m outside sunning by the pool doing my best to magically make a fresh bottle of Santa Christina Umbria disappear, preferably before halftime, after which I’ll crack open a bottle of Blac d’ Blanc Champagne from Schramsberg.  All this is evidenced by the photo above.

I’m not even going to bother watching this game, I tell myself.  Why should I?  I refuse to waste a gorgeous Las Vegas afternoon in front of the television.  I’ll be doing plenty of that during the rest of the season.  My money should win.  Let it do the work for me.  Let my money make me money.  It’s just like stocks, I tell myself.  Like a mutual fund.  Hmm, should I go cash my ticket that going to be worth $10,800 later tonight, or wait until tomorrow?  Such are the difficult decisions of the overconfident.

*     *     *     *     *

My laptop is out by the pool.  The game kicked off just a few moments ago.  I want to make sure I’ve got a good connection, so I hit the refresh button while linked to ESPN.  My first look at the scoreboard….

With 14:43 left in the first quarter, it’s Dallas 7, Los Angeles 0.

What the fuck!

How the shit did Dallas score in the first 17 seconds?

Motivated by panic, my curiosity piqued, I slam the refresh button again and see that the Cowboys have run back the opening kickoff 101 yards and scored a touchdown.

I’m about to throw up my last gulp of Santa Christina.

Alright.  Calm the fuck down.  It’s just one touchdown.  Some dude who’s about to be cut from the team blew a tackling assignment.  Big deal.  It happens.  The Rams should still be in control of the game.

Next series, Rams go 4 downs and out.  Punt.  Dallas ball.

Rookie Dak Prescott takes the field for the first time in a Cowboy uniform.  He looks like Roger Staubach winning the Heisman Trophy at Navy and dashes Dallas on a 85-yard drive that looks to be pristine perfection.

Dallas 14, Los Angeles 0.

I’m swimming and cursing at the same time.  If the neighbors didn’t already think I’m half crazy, they’ve got plenty of new material to ponder.  I refuse to let this gambling abomination ruin my day.  No. No. No. No. No.  Let the game play out and quit obsessing over every play of every drive, I tell myself.

About 40 more minutes pass.  Unable to accept the serenity and remain calm, the laptop opens up again and now it’s Dallas 14, Los Angeles 7.

That’s better.  Now, I’ve got a chance.  I’m back in the game.

Another 40 minutes or so passes.  It must be halftime, by now, I suspect.

ESPN on the screen.  Half time score:  Dallas 24, Los Angeles 7.

FUUUUUUUUUUCCCCCCCCCCCCKKKKKKKKKK!!!!!!!!!

*     *     *     *     *

I tend to be pretty good at the things I’m interested in.

If I’m not interested, or worse — bored with it — I’m the laziest motherfucker on the planet.  [Consider that one reason it took me a month to get back to writing this story.]

Lots of people don’t know this but my work did have a significant impact on NFL betting about 15 years ago.  Allow me to tell you that story.  Since it’s halftime, this makes for perfect timing.

Just before I moved to Las Vegas from Washington, DC, I spent that last summer in the nation’s capital outdoors in the sun, reading and calculating and pouring over old box scores of ball games dating back nearly 20 years.  Each and every day, my routine was pretty much the same.  I went outside, dug into the numbers, made my notes, and eventually came up with gambling fucking gold.  It was the equivalent of discovering hidden treasure.

I have to share some of the credit here.  A handicapper and researcher named Mike Garbowski (whom I’ve never met) had been the first writer ever to take on the unchartered topic of football halftime betting.  Sometime around 1999, he published an obscure data set in a booklet which included all the NFL halftime betting lines and results dating back to the season when they first became available, sometime back in the 1980s.  I don’t even think that data is around anymore.  If there’s a copy of “NFL Second-Half Betting” around somewhere, I still have not seen it since my old copy became so worn out it is no longer legible. [Note:  I think that’s the title of the book.  I’m not sure.  It’s been many years since I’ve seen a copy.]

Thing was, Garbowski didn’t do much in terms of creating a narrative with all his data.  He didn’t market the research, at all.  So, I spent the next three months scouring his numbers and then crosschecked them with as many NFL game results as I could find from the Internet.  The longer I worked, the more excited I became.  After a few weeks of doing this, I couldn’t wait to wake up the next day, go outside, and spend the entire day data mining NFL box scores.  I know, that doesn’t sound like much of a life.  I guess — it isn’t.  But in the faux-laboratory of the mind of an NFL handicapper, this became an obsession.

The work wasn’t easy.  For every nugget of gold I found, probably 30 or so theories turned out to be false leads pointing to fool’s gold.  That’s the excruciating toil of data mining, the labor that no one sees.  It’s spending half a day or longer than that on something that looks very promising dating back a few seasons, and then when you continue to run the numbers with all the crosschecking, eventually the advantages fizzle out and end up at the same random percentages as coin flipping.  That’s why it’s called mining.  You have to go deep underground, dig through an incalculable amount worthless rock, and if you’re extraordinarily persistent and then lucky, you might just find a few tiny diamonds amidst the coal.  Data mining is an exercise in constant frustration and disappointment, not to be attempted by anyone but the most determined and stubborn.

My research finally led to 7 NFL Halftime Betting Angles that were irrefutably successful, and ended up altering the second-half lines of pro football games.  Seriously, the actually stared shifting the lines because of this research,  I first published my data in 2001 online at MadJack Sports (with proper attribution given to Mr. Garbowski, of course), and afterward everyone pretty much stole our data, re-posted it elsewhere at other sports betting forums, and the gold rush was on like has never been the case in NFL second-half wagering.

Incredibly, those NFL Halftime Betting Angles produced a whopping 65 percent winners during the full 2001 season.  My systems produced an average of 3 to 4 plays per week.  There was no handicapping involved, whatsoever.  You just bet them blind, and won.  It was that simple.  A monkey could make the plays and win.  It was a dream come true.

Making a really long story much shorter than it really deserves to be (note to self — do the detailed write up someone later, especially on the dead-end angles), those angles made me some money, but they didn’t make me rich.  I had no full-time job for about a year (similar to my experience now), so I relied on those wagers to keep me going.  Thank goodness for offshore sports books, which was my only betting option in those days.

The following season, in 2002, I moved to Las Vegas.  The angles performed even better, winning at nearly 67 percent.  In 2003, Dave Tuley published my angles in the Daily Racing Form, even though the subject matter of the periodical was horse racing.  I published a revised editions of my angles in 2003 in Casino Player magazine.  In other words, I updated some angles, and dropped a few based on results.  This was before software packages ran the data, and even that wasn’t very good since quarters and halves aren’t usually broken down with numbers and percentages — so all the work had to be done the old fashioned way, by making your eyeballs bleed pouring over the data.  By 2005, I was attending sports handicapping seminars in Las Vegas and the “experts” sitting up on the stage were quoting my work (and Garbowski’s work), citing our betting angles, and I pretty much just sat there stewing like a pressure cooker with a thumb up my ass, silent like a bitter victim who watched as everyone else ran away with the prize.

Fuck me.  I never should have published those angles.  I should have kept them to myself.

I coulda’ been a contender.

Addendum to this story:  Two things happened — (1) Lines makers began adjusting lines to the angles, and they became less reliable.  (2) The NFL became more of a passing game and rules were changed which helped offenses, negating some of the “under” betting systems I had created.  Closing advice — don’t bother with the angles anymore.  They’re now totally obsolete.

*     *     *     *     *

No, I didn’t tell that last story with any purpose in mind.  It just seemed like a good time.

No, I did not make a halftime wager on this game.  I’m already down y 17 points.  It looks like I’m about to lose more than enough money on this day and the first thing you must when you’re stuck in a hole is to stop digging.

Second half kickoff.  Dallas 24, Los Angeles 7.

Under these circumstances, I now have to go back into the house and watch my action.

Fuck the sun.

Fuck the pool.

The champagne is still sitting the fridge.

Marieta senses that something is very wrong.

I’m miserable as all fuck.

The second half of the first preseason opener is usually a romper room of ineptitude.  Players who have no shot of ever playing in the NFL are now out on the field, trying desperately to make an impression somewhere on someone just enough to get noticed so he might later get signed to a minimal contract to play on the practice squad.  Many preseason second halves are nothing more than scrimmages — training exercises where the coaches just go through the motions, sending in dull plays that would only interest some talent scout from the former XFL.

For this reason, being stuck 17 points in a preseason NFL game is like being down 30 points in a regular season game.  It means your double fucked.

My five-figure wager is now riding on the arm of a new quarterback for the Rams named Sean Mannion, who used to play for the Oregon State Beavers.  I had to look that up just now, because I could not even remember his name or anything about him.  But over the next 90 minutes or so, he’s going to turn into the second coming of Jesus Fucking Christ.

Mannion throws a touchdown pass in the middle of the third quarter, and after three frames, it’s Dallas 24, Los Angeles 14.  Still down by 10 points.  C’mon, you bastards!

By this time, Dallas has replaced Dak Prescott, who played like an All-Pro in his first-ever NFL start.  That stellar display foreshadowed the incredible rookie season he would later enjoy with the Cowboys as he led them to the NFL East title.  Done for the day, now a fourth-stringer takes all the snaps, and it’s apparent the Cowboys aren’t really interested much in scoring in more points or risking injuries to anyone who might make the team.  They won the half that counted on the scoreboard, from both a coaching and talent perspective.

Fortunately for me, the Rams fourth stringers are treating this game like a Super Bowl.  Los Angeles manages to score another touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, and now it’s Dallas 24, Los Angeles 21.

I’m pacing back and forth in front of the television like a wild mare.  Rams players who drop passes get called out as cocksuckers.  Cowboy receivers who drop passes get called out as heroes.

Down to the two-minute warning.  Rams have the ball, and are driving.  92,000 fans are on their feet, and while most of the television viewers watching wouldn’t normally think this is a big dive, for me this might as well be Elway piercing through the Browns defense in the epic ’87 AFC Championship game.

With about 1:30 left on the clock and the Rams with no time outs, it’s 4th down.  Crunch time.  Rams ball.  They’re on about the Dallas 35.  I’m mulling over the possibility of kicking a 52-yard field goal, and ponder if that’s what I went to happen.  But Rams’ had coach Jeff Fisher isn’t playing for the tie here.  He wants to win.  I desperately need a first down.  Then, I need another 30 yards in the closing minute.

On fourth down, Mannion takes the snap and goes back to pass, then looks to his right, and nothing is there, so then he looks to his left.  A pass rush floods into the backfield and just as Mannion is about eat the ball and go down with a sack, meaning “game over,” he sees a running back trekking out towards the sidelines, fires a missile that hits the receiver high in the shoulder pads, and he collapses with the ball out of bounds, but a half yard across the first-down marker.

First down Rams!

A few plays later, the Rams are down on the Dallas 9-yard line.  A few seconds remaining.  If I lose this game after storming back against the odds, something’s going to get broken.  I don’t like breaking furniture.  Marieta really hates it when I do that.  Please, o’ please let the Rams score.

Mannion goes back to pass……Aaron Green slants off darting towards the left post in the corner of the end zone…..his arm moves forward……ball is in the air…..Green makes the catch…..

TOUCHDOWN!!!!

With the extra point, Los Angeles 28, Dallas 24.  Final score.

Sean Mannion, my hero.  Congratulations, Sir!  You made the blog!

Time to cash a $10,800 ticket.

 

 

Coming Up:  I’ll be writing a lot more about “data mining” in my next chapter of “Gambling for a Living.”

 

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The Most Effective Weapons Against Islamic Terrorism: Beer and Ass

Posted by on Mar 3, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, Rants and Raves, What's Left | 1 comment

 

solving-terrorism

 

Any religion that forbids enjoying life is a straight jacket.  I mean — what kind of routine requires that you pray five times a day?  Why doesn’t someone in that faith jump up and say,“how come we’re praying more than anyone else on earth, and we’re still the poorest motherfuckers on the planet?”

  _____

 

Defeating the scourge of Islamic terrorism will take some creative thinking.

What we’ve been doing so far, isn’t working.

So, let’s all quit pretending we’ve got the tiger by the tail, because we don’t.  Drastic times call for drastic measures, and I’ve got what I believe is the perfect solution.

Open up a shitload of bars and nightclubs inside every Muslim country.  Carpet bomb them with liquor.  Do it.  Forget about dropping humanitarian leaflets and care packages and trying to reason with fanatics.  Instead, ship in bar stools, announce it’s happy hour, and let the free-pouring begin.  Then, crank up the music and make it loud.

Take a look at the faces of the terrorists.  Who are they?  They’re almost always young men in their late teens or early 20’s.  Given our biology and genetics, what do most young me in their late teens and early 20’s want?

Answer:  Beer and ass (not necessarily in that order).

Imagine what it must be like living inside a hard-core Muslim society.  It’s brutal.  They’re basically living inside giant prison camps.  You’d go mad.  Every sphere of daily life is suffocated by religion.  Since drinking alcohol is strictly forbidden by the Koran, most of these countries don’t have a single bar or nightclub where people can go and hang out.  Look at the nations which engage in terrorism, and you won’t find any bars.

That’s the problem.

So, what do these young people do instead?  They sit around in frustration and feel sorry for themselves.  They look around at the rest of the world and observe other young people having a blast.  Drinking.  Dancing.  Partying.  Fucking.  And some of these Muslim fundamentalists decide, “Well fuck that!  If we can’t have it, they can’t either.  So, let’s go blow their shit up!”

Pretty much sums up the situation, doesn’t it?

Think deeper.  The problem is far more serious than just the lack of booze.  Contemplate a society where young men can’t mix and mingle with young women, without supervision.  A culture where the simple act of a man talking to a woman openly on the street might lead to arrest.  Really, think about what a psychological cluster fuck that creates for a populace.  You really want to know why some of these radicals go bat shit crazy and decide to blow themselves up?  It’s because they aren’t getting any beer or ass.

Go ahead, think about that.  I’m right.

Look at the Muslim societies which produce the most terrorists.  Where are they?  Saudi Arabia.  Yemen.  Syria.  Libya.  The U.A.E.  Always the strictest societies.  Places where God’s crazy capos walk around with billy clubs and act as the morality police.  Places where there are no bars and the women don’t show any flesh.  Countries where women are forced to cover their faces.  Places where there’s no pornography.  Where adultery can get the offender the death penalty.  Do the simple math:  No beer + no ass = terrorism.

No, this isn’t just a Muslim thing.  Not at all, Contrast this with the Republic of Turkey, a modern secular democracy that’s 99 percent Muslim.  They have more bars than mosques in that country.  More bartenders than imams.  Nightclubs that rival what you would see in London or New York.  Check out Turkish newspapers — nude women plastered all over the pages.  In Turkey, they even have nude beaches.  Notice anything unusual about Turkey when contrasted with its neighbors?  No terrorists.  Except for the Kurds of course — but they don’t count since they’re fighting a separatist movement.  Besides, the Kurds aren’t getting any beer and ass either, so that pretty much makes my point.

So, we see that banning booze and shackling the shorts seriously mind fucks with people’s heads.  Even the terrorists responsible for the 9-11 attacks were so messed up psychologically by the time they finally made it to America that they tipped off what for them was the essential frustration of their lives.  What did they all do the nights leading up to committing suicide attacks and killing thousands?

That’s right.  They went to strip clubs and hired hookers.  In other words, they went all out for the beer and ass.

terrorist

Look at this miserable fuck.

You think if this poor guy drank a couple of Budweisers every night after work and got some fresh ass on the weekends he’d mastermind blowing our shit up?  Sigmund Freud could have a field day with this guy’s mental charts.  He’s a fruitcake factory, all because he didn’t grow up like the rest of us.  He didn’t get smashed every now and then while in high school, or spend most of his youth hunting for shaggable tail.

Too bad he missed out.  He might been the life of the party.  Come to think of it, he does look a little bit like Ron Jeremy.

So I’m thinking the solution to the world’s terrorism problem goes something like this:

(1)  First, get them to ditch that bullshit religion of theirs.  Any religion that forbids enjoying life is a straight jacket.  I mean, what kind of routine requires that you pray five times a day?  Why doesn’t someone jump up and say, “how come we’re praying more than anyone else on earth, and we’re still the poorest motherfuckers on the planet?”  Wake up, people!

(2)  Lend them a shitload of IMF money with only one stipulation.  The loan must be used to build bars and nightclubs.  Not dams and roads and bridges.  Fuck that.  Bars.  Clubs.  Places where people can hang out and have fun.

(3)  Bombard them with Lady Gaga music or whatever else they might listen to that makes everyone take their clothes off and start fornicating.  Once they start the national bang fest, they won’t give a flying rats ass how to detonate a C-12 plastic explosive.  They’ll all be too busy screwing each others brains out to join ISIS.

(4)  Forget those failed advertising campaigns trying to sell “freedom” and “democracy” to the people.  Not working.  Instead, hammer them over the head with silly commercials and billboards of different kinds of beer, showing an oasis of ice cold brew in the hot desert.  Freedom doesn’t sell.  Fun sells.  Sin sells.

Here’s a final thought.  Let’s look at history.  Look at what worked in the past.

The Cold War wasn’t won with guns and bombs.  It was won with rock n’ roll and blue jeans.

The West never fired a single shot over the Berlin Wall.  We never had to.  We let the natural advantages and attributes of our society overwhelm our adversaries, until the time when they became just like us — wanting the exact same things.  Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy weren’t the heroes.  The Beatles and Levi Strauss were.  When everything came crashing down, the Soviets and Eastern Europeans weren’t quoting politicians.  They were singing to the music of Pink Floyd.

There’s a lesson to be learned here.  A generation ago it was popular music and cool clothes.  Now, it’s cold beer and ass.

That’s the solution to the global terrorism problem.

To borrow a line from Hendrix Marley O’Unzo, “happy people don’t want to die.”

 

Efes-Turkish-Beer

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Vegas Golden Knights: The Worst Team Nickname in the NHL

Posted by on Mar 2, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas | 14 comments

 

 

Yesterday, it became official.

The “Vegas Golden Knights” will join the National Hockey League as an expansion franchise.  The first puck drops during the 2017-18 season, about eight months from now.

As a transplanted Las Vegan (15 years here, and counting) and a dedicated sports fan, this is exciting news.  Aside from gambling, I’m a big believer in professional sports as a conduit of unity.  When managed well and integrated smartly into urban landscapes, sports teams can be a wonderful force to enliven the spirit of communities.  Sports brings people together.

Hooray!

Unfortunately, the first major decision made by this new franchise was a colossal mistake.  Cringe worthy, even.

New team owner Bill Foley decided to call his franchise the “Vegas Golden Knights.”  Not the Las Vegas Golden Knights, mind you — which would have been only half as bad.  Just plain old “Vegas,” like the hopelessly dated television show back during the disco era, starring feather-haired Dan Tanna.  V-E-G-A-S, baby.  That name is about as thrilling as a brown leisure suit with a pair of bell bottoms.

When asked to explain why he insists on calling his new team “Vegas” for short, Foley’s reply was jaw-dropping.

“People that live here call themselves Vegas,” Foley said at a press conference held last November when the official team name was first announced.  ” ‘Where you from?  Vegas.’  They don’t say ‘Las Vegas.”

Um, yes we do.  We say Las Vegas.

Given my own experience, combined with lots of travel over the past ten years, I’ve come into direct contact with as many people who actually live in Las Vegas as anyone who’s engaged in a public role.  I also encounter hundreds of visitors from other places who come to Las Vegas.  By an overwhelming margin, those of us who live here consistently refer to our city as “LAS VEGAS.”

Want know who refers to us simply as “Vegas?”  Here’s your answer:  Tourists.  Punks who get off discounted flights at McCarran with $1,500 in their pocket along with a can’t-lose craps system.  Pretenders.  Suckers about to get fleeced.  Guys (and girls) who act like they fit into the local scene, but who wouldn’t know the Golden Knights from the Golden Nugget, or even the Golden Coral.  Oh, and Bill Foley too, who reportedly lives full-time — not here in Las Vegas — but in that hockey haven Jacksonville, Florida but still insists he knows how we all talk out here.

Look at it this way.  No one would dare call an NHL team the York Rangers, or the Jose Sharks, or the Angeles Kings.  So, why would we allow our city’s name to be lacerated?  Try calling the major league baseball team based in Northern California the “Frisco Giants,” and see the response you’d get from the locals.

As bad as that decision was to downsize our city’s proper name, the team nickname is even worse.  Question — what’s the first thing you think of that’s associated with Las Vegas?  Obviously, the correct answer is casinos and gambling.  We could have been called the “Aces.”  In an online poll, 42 percent of those who responded favored the name “Aces” — which was double the popularity of any other nickname.  Another option would have been to select an animal native to this region, which is quite common with many sports franchises.

Aside from Aces, the ideal animal team name would have been the Las Vegas Scorpions.  That name is perfect.  First, the creature is native to our area.  Second, the scorpion is an aggressive and masculine predator, quite fitting for a feisty hockey team.  And, the tail of the scorpion is an artist’s dream-come-true from a logo and marketing standpoint.  Who doesn’t see a hockey stick within the long tail of a scorpion ready to fire off a slap shot?  One can see the future dream headline now:  “Scorpions Sting Penguins and Win Stanley Cup”

So, what was Foley’s reaction to “Scorpions” when it was proposed?

“A lot of people like Scorpions, but the scorpion is a defensive animal,” Foley said last year.  “We’re not going to be defensive.  So I didn’t want that.”

Scorpion….a defensive animal?

So please tell us, what in the hell is a golden knight?  A guy wearing a face guard standing and guarding a castle surrounded by a moat — sounds like a defensive posture to me.  Bobby Orr must be rolling his eyes somewhere.

Call me cynical, but the name that was ultimately selected sounds awfully close to “Black Knight Financial Services,” the private company of which Foley is the proud Chairman and CEO.  Gee, isn’t that grand?   Dishing out the team name to a corporation based 2,500 miles away that has no connection whatsoever to Las Vegas or its citizens, unless Foley’s company just so happens to be gobbling up properties at a foreclosure.  Sorry if I don’t get all excited about a team name that seems so dubiously linked to the owner’s mortgage and real estate company.

Oh, and then there’s the subjugation of Nevada to California.  Since they’ll play within the same conference, a natural rivalry is likely to develop between Las Vegas and Los Angeles.  The trouble is — aren’t knights under the command of kings?  Another thing — isn’t Nevada the SILVER state?  What’s California?  Oh, that’s right — the GOLDEN state.

This team name makes no sense at all.

Of course, no one should be surprised by this.  Bonehead owners are to professional sports what peanut butter is to jelly.  One naturally attracts the other.  Unfortunately in professional sports — stubborn ownership, gross mismanagement, and indifference to fans’ expectations portends both on- and off-the-ice disaster.

Let’s hope this doesn’t happen with the NHL’s new franchise, which will play all of its home games here in LAS Vegas.

Move aside, “Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.”  When it comes to the worst team name in all of professional sports, you’ve now moved one spot up from the bottom.

 

Note 1:  The NHL team changed their official name to the Anaheim Ducks in 2006.

Note 2:  Foley reportedly wanted to name his team the “Black Knights,” after his Alma mater, Army (West Point).  However, there were copyright concerns.  However, explanation exists that I’ve seen that accounts for Las Vegas usurping the team nickname of the University of Central Florida, which has been Knights and Golden Knights.  

 

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Empty Words and False Promises: Dissecting President Trump’s State of the Union Address

Posted by on Mar 1, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 3 comments

 

 

Let’s begin with several positive things about President Trump’s first State of the Union address, which took place last night.

First, President Trump’s opening remarks condemning the alarming increase in hate crimes across America — including several antisemitic acts and deadly violence against immigrants — was both timely and decisive.  For the first time in 40 days of this new administration, we finally witnessed the actions of a President, instead of a circus clown.

President Trump’s speech also included a number of specific policy shifts many of us will support if implemented, including liberals like myself.  Some of these proposals include:

Disengaging from military and financial conflicts in the Middle East.  President Trump noted that the amount of money wasted on pointless wars (specifically in Afghanistan and Iraq) could have “rebuilt American infrastructure two times over.”  He’s absolutely correct.  So, let’s quit wasting more time, money, and brave American lives.  Let’s get the hell out of that region once and for all and let those people solve their own problems.  [Note:  Unfortunately, reducing involvement in that region won’t apply to America’s blind support for Israel, which the president tirelessly reiterated last night.]

President Trump is absolutely correct when it comes to the controversial issue of reducing cumbersome federal regulations which inhibit new drugs coming to market and experimental medical treatments which might save lives.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) imposes many absurd restrictions on new treatments, including waiting times that usually take several years.  Here’s a guideline that will streamline things:  If a drug has already been cleared in other industrialized countries and appears to be working well, then fast-track its approval.  Cut out the red tape and allow it into the United States (of course, a federal bill to allow the importation of foreign drugs was shot down last month, with Republicans blocking this proposal in overwhelming numbers).  Moreover, let’s allow so-called “risky” drugs to be used on terminally-ill patients who have no other options and who will most certainly die without some kind of miracle cure.  President Trump insisted that he wants to reduce FDA regulations, and we should all get behind this strongly.  [Note:  He’s absolutely wrong on other FDA matters, such as food safety, which is may also receive lax treatment.  I’m speaking of experimental new drugs, not cutting all regulations across the board, which is the Republican position.] 

The U.S. must make a considerable investment in updating and improving our domestic infrastructure.  This is a longtime Democratic plan (pushed by liberals), dating back as far as the days of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), under Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Democrats have always supported what have been called “make work” projects providing millions of jobs and improving the nation’s roads, bridges, and other centers of transportation and commerce.  It’s nice to see President Trump finally acknowledge what we leftists have been preaching for a very long time — that infrastructure improvements must be a permanent fixture and responsibility of federal government.

_____

Unfortunately, while there were many positives in the speech, President Trump also continued to misrepresent facts and misstate what have clearly been the contradictory positions of his own party on matters of the utmost importance to this country.  Here are several examples from last night’s speech:

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) — All Republicans, President Trump foremost among them, have been screaming and scrambling to dismantle so-called “Obamacare” for the past six years.  Now we see that was nothing more than dog-whistle campaign rhetoric designed to make the Right-wing base wet their pants with excitement.  Now that they’re totally in charge, we’re still waiting for their “beautiful plan” (Trump’s words) to be revealed to the American people.  We continue to wait, and wait.  Fact is, Republicans have nothing to propose.  President Trump even admits publicly that he doesn’t know the first thing about a America’s complex health care system.  Yet, he did spend considerable time slamming the ACA last night, (falsely) saying it’s collapsing (no, it isn’t).  It sounded like just another red-meat campaign speech.  The bottom line is this:  Republicans have nothing on the table that will replace the ACA.  Not a thing.  Many Americans now realize this system needs to be improved, not scrapped.  President Trump is either a liar or ignorant on this topic — very likely both.

Backing NATO — President Trump has openly questioned the role of NATO for the past two years while running for office.  He’s said many times that traditional treaty organization may no longer be necessary.  That might be a debatable position and we should have that discussion.  Yet last night, President Trump completely reversed himself on this issue pledging to fully support U.S. involvement in NATO.  Moreover, he committed at least one laughable gaffe, stating that NATO helped to save the world from fascism during two world wars.  Uh, no it didn’t, Mr. President.  NATO wasn’t formed until 1949, four years after the end of World War II.  Apparently, your speechwriter Steve Bannon needs to take a world history class.

Increasing Defense Spending — What’s the looming global conflict that requires the U.S. go so far above and beyond the bloated all-time record high appropriations for so-called national defense?  We’re already spending more money on boots and bombs and military bases than the next dozen nations in the world — combined!  We’re winding down pointless unwinnable wars in the Middle East (if President Trump’s other pledge is to be believed).  We’re headed towards a more isolationist role in world affairs, by his own admission.  Why in the hell is President Trump proposing to increase military spending by nearly 10 percent?  This is insane, especially given the national debt and the dire need to spend money here are home improving our country, rather than trying to rebuild war zones in the Middle East.  This is madness.

Defeating ISIS — President Trump talks a good game about defeating the terror group ISIS.  On the campaign trail, he pledged to wipe out ISIS within the first 30 days of his new administration.  Well, it’s now Day 41.  What objective to that end has been accomplished?  Has ISIS been defeated yet?  President Trump did approve a disastrous military excursion into Yemen, which resulted in failure.  Just prior to his speech, the president tried to shift the blame to his predecessor (President Obama) and the military for the failure on his watch, which he approved.  What a shameful gutless display of leadership.

Protecting Clean Air and Water — Last night, President Trump pledged to protect clean air and water.  How nice.  Yet, while his mouth was saying one thing, he’s been doing quite another behind the scenes.  He’s vowed to gut the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  He already signed an Executive Order which will dismantle the Clean Water Rule, which was instituted during the Obama Administration.  Trump’s deregulation will now allow companies to turn waterways into sewers.  Polluters rejoice!  President Trump is a fraud on this issue, and everyone knows it.

Helping Our Veterans — President Trump’s pledge to take care of America’s veterans is a farce.  Dismissing the fact he held a fundraiser for veterans during his presidential campaign last year, and then skipped out on writing the check to the charity, congressional Republicans have a dismal record when it comes to funding veterans issues.  [SOURCE HERE]

Crime — Once again, President Trump played fast and loose with the facts when it comes to crime.  All statistics reveal that crime has actually decreased over the past few decade.  Yet, from listening to President Trump’s speech one would think there’s lawlessness in the streets.  Violent crime certainly is a problem in many places and this must be addressed.  Yet, several overtures from urban mayors and leaders seeking a discussion with the new administration have been ignored.  Trump and Republicans love to talk a good game when it comes to crime.  But, they’ve proposed nothing in terms of solutions, other than building more for-profit prisons and criminalizing drugs (see new initiatives by the Department of Justice on recreational marijuana use).  President Trump also ignored what is probably the worst public health crisis of our time, which is Opioid abuse and addiction.  Not a single word about that topic was mentioned.  Shame.

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Indeed, President Trump’s speech was noteworthy for what wasn’t mentioned.  Despite rambling on for more than an hour, taking on wide ranging topics, climate change wasn’t brought up once.  Neither was America’s unsustainable reliance on fossil fuels.  The President did do plenty of cheer leading for the coal industry and oil companies, however.

Oh, and while America’s military commitments comprised a significant portion of the speech, there wasn’t a single mention of Russia.  Go figure.

There were also three specific moments during the president’s State of the Union address which left me and many other liberals gasping in disbelief:

— President Trump proposed creating a new federal agency supposedly to operate within the Department of Homeland Security.  This agency will be known as VOICE.  That stands for “Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement.”  This is an utterly appalling idea which brought audible gasps from the audience when it was first introduced in the speech.  Why would the federal government create a new agency that would discriminate based solely, not on the victim of the crime, but the perpetrator of the crime?  What next?  A federal agency designed to protect us only from criminals with brown hair?  What does this absurd proposal say to the hundreds of thousands of actual victims of crimes all across America?  The distinction made for victims of illegal immigrants (a number which is statistically decreasing, by the way) says to all those who were robbed, stabbed, shot, or murdered by anyone other than an illegal immigrant — screw you.  We’re only interested in your case if you were attacked by an illegal.  Otherwise, get lost.  This is a politicized agency based on hate and fear.  It is an appalling idea.

— President Trump’s line about limiting government corruption was absurd and obscene, particularly coming of an eight-year presidency with no scandals whatsoever.  He said, “we have placed a hiring freeze on nonmilitary and nonessential federal workers.  We have begun to drain the swamp of government corruption….”  Again, more laughter from the audience.  Draining the swamp of government corruption would actually mean not hiring Wall Street insiders, political flunkies, and billionaires, which is precisely what this administration has done since taking office.  President Trump continues to use his pups to enrich himself, runs from questions on his international business connections, and still steadfastly refuses to release his tax records.  To utter the words “drain(ing) the swamp of government corruption” is ludicrous.

“The time for trivial fights is behind us.”  President Trump actually said those shocking words with a straight face (which elicited laughter from the gallery).  Trouble was, he wasn’t joking.  He was serious.  This delusional one-man hate-machine, obsessed with tweeting attacks against actresses at 4 am has already lowered “trivial” to subterranean depths.  No politician in my lifetime has engaged in more trivial bullshit.  For this impostor to stand before the American people in the hallowed gallery of congress and preach to us — the American people — about “trivial” behavior is a disgrace.  He should have been laughed out of the Capitol Building for that remark.

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Finally, President Trump is either a liar (well, that’s already been established) or else he’s very bad at math.

The President is proposing to increase the size of the military by nearly 10 percent.  He’s proposing to increase funding for veterans.  He’s proposing to build a wall on the Mexican border, which will probably cost about $35 billion.  He’s proposing to spend $1 trillion (that’s with a T-as in trillion) on domestic infrastructure improvements.  He’s proposing not to touch government entitlement programs — including Medicaid and Social Security.  And now — get this — he’s going to cut taxes.

Someone please explain how anyone can propose to increase the federal budget by perhaps 20-25 percent while cutting taxes?

I’m still waiting.

Oddly enough, the press and public reaction to the speech was largely positive.  Afterward, he was described repeatedly as “presidential.” This is the depth of the dungeon which has come to define to appallingly low expectations of the Trump Administration.

The evidence is clear — this was a speech filled with empty words, false promises, and plenty of lies.  Why should anyone be surprised.  Lies and empty rhetoric is something this president has truly become an expert at.  In fact, he’s the best of all time.

 

Writer’s Note:  Technically, this was not a State of the Union address.  However, I’m using some literary latitude and categorizing it as precisely that based on the setting, content, and delivery. 

 

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